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Indians who missed medals by a whisker in the history of the Olympic Games

  • Looking back at the history of Indian performances at the Olympics and how a medal was just out of reach.
Modified 16 Aug 2016, 14:46 IST
Dipa Karmakar
Dipa Karmakar opened everybody’s eyes to Gymnastics as a discipline that should be recognised

While a Karmakar from Tripura made the whole nation proud with her determination and bravery at Rio 2016 as she missed a medal by a whisker, four years ago it was another Karmakar who made the entire nation believe as he too achieved the fourth place in his event. Joydeep Karmakar, a shooter from Kolkata, finished fourth in the rifle prone event at London in 2012.

The country suffered a massive heartbreak although the disappointment it caused was short-lived. Minutes after Joydeep failed to make a podium finish, another shooter, Vijay Kumar, gave India the much elusive silver medal in his Individual 25m rapid fire pistol event. It was definitely a bittersweet day for the audience back home.

A look at the history of Indians at the Olympics is enough to conclude that we have been profoundly unlucky when it has come to winning medals in most kinds of sports. One very dependable avenue used to be Field Hockey where the country was dominant in the Summer Games, winning eleven medals between 1920 and 1980. At present, however, nearly 10 days of the Rio Olympics have been played out and India is yet to win their first accolade.

Also readDipa Karmakar is not a symbol of India's failure, hypocrisy and mediocrity; she is a symbol of something much more positive

For a country obsessed with cricket, other sports are ignored. The athletics division seems to be crying out for help and nourishment. Even apart from monetary constraints, corruption has seeped into sports and this trend has particularly risen in the last decade. For the Rio contingent itself, at least two athletes have fallen under the scanner for possible charges of doping against them. One of them, Inderjeet Singh, has pleaded innocence since the first time this charge broke out in the media. Only time will tell what the truth is.

History made in 1960 but no medal for Milkha Singh

Who among us can forget the Summer Games held in Rome in 1960? History was written for India after Milkha Singh became the first Indian to break an Olympic track record of 400m in 45.9 seconds. Unfortunately, he was one among four people to do so in the same race. His impressive timing of 45.6 seconds meant that he missed out on a bronze medal by just one-tenth of a second.

The Queen of Indian track and field, PT Usha, had a similar heartbreak at the Games held in 1984 in Los Angeles where she finished fourth with a time difference that was as small as one-hundredth of a second. The successful duo of Mahesh Bhupati and Leander Paes suffered a loss through straight sets against the Doubles Team from Germany in the semifinals of the 2004 Games.


If we were to talk about the ongoing edition of the Olympics, we have Abhinav Bindra to focus on. The legendary shooter became the first Indian to win a Gold at an individual event in the Olympics after his stellar performance in Beijing in 2008. This time, however, he couldn’t finish the job in his last shot and ended fourth by a narrow margin.

Shooting has constituted nearly 70% of our medal tally at the Games so far. On that front, we certainly have been disappointed even after sending one of the strongest contingents we probably could have. Maybe nobody will understand Bindra’s disappointment more than Joydeep Karmakar who went through the same in 2012.

Coming back to Dipa Karmakar, since she became the first Indian female gymnast to qualify for an Olympic final and has become something of a hero back in Kolkata. A lot has been said about the adverse conditions she grew up in and how she overcome personal, societal and economic adversities to achieve the fourth position in a discipline that, until now, was not even considered a legitimate sport in the country. She stood with the likes of Simone Biles and brought glory to India as the pioneer of Artistic Gymnastics here.

Also read: A teary-eyed Dipa Karmakar: "I'm sorry for letting you down India, will win a medal in 2020 - promise!" 

Is it lack of resources that leads to our poor performance at the Olympics? Is it psychological pressure that earns them the infamous tag of the “chokers”? India, it seems, have had a history of missing out medals by small margins. Faced with such mediocre conditions, it is quite an achievement if one manages to come so close to a medal. But since this is a recurring trend, we must ask ourselves why nothing has been done to rectify this yet. 

Perhaps it's time we question ourselves as to what can be done to improve the psychological encouragement our athletes receive for the country in general. Here is a list of the Indians who have missed out on an Olympic medal by a whisker.

Indian athletes coming fourth in the Olympics
Mangwe Srirang JadhavWrestling1952
Milkha SinghAthletics1960
Prem KumarWrestling1972
Sudesh NathWrestling1972
PT UshaAthletics1984
Rajinder SinghWrestling1984
Leander Paes/Mahesh BhupatiTennis2004
Kunjarani DeviWeightlifting2004
Joydeep KarmakarShooting2012
Abhinav BindraShooting2016
Sania Mirza/ Rohan BopannaTennis2016
Dipa KarmakarGymnastics2016

The cult status that cricket enjoys among the population of India is very well-known. As long as that remains, it is difficult for other sports to grow. Part of the responsibility is ours, as Indians and as sports enthusiasts, to support lesser known disciplines.

Published 16 Aug 2016, 14:28 IST
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